How Dry Does Wood Need To Be For Woodworking? A Surprising Answer.

photo of floating walnut shelves under construction in a workshop.

There are multiple things to consider when deciding what type of wood you want to use when woodworking. For example, you’ll need to make sure that it’s the right thickness and length. However, you might also want to think about how green it is. 

So, how dry does wood need to be for woodworking? It’s recommended that you aim for a moisture level of less than 7 percent. If it’s higher than this, you’ll struggle to work with it. The best way to measure moisture is by using a wood moisture meter. If you need to dry out the logs, you can air dry them or build a home kiln. 

How green the wood is will have a big impact on how easy it will be to work with. Let’s take a closer look at why this is important. We’ll also discuss some of the best ways to dry out your wood before undertaking a woodworking project.

Wood Humidity and dryness is one of the topics we plan on discussing during our live online workshops at Cucamonga Woodworking. You can watch our past workshops on YouTube here(Link to Cucamonga Woodworking)

What Level Of Moisture Is Acceptable For Woodworking?

The best way to decide if the wood will be suitable for woodworking, you might want to measure its moisture level. Generally, you’ll want to get a moisture level of between six to seven percent when woodworking. If it’s too high, it will be difficult to work with. In many cases, it will be harder to cut through. However, if it’s too dry, it might become brittle. 

The right moisture level can often depend on how you intend to use the wood. This table can help guide you. 

ActivityAcceptable Moisture Level
Indoor 6 to 8%
Outdoor9 to 14%
Furniture6 to 9%
General Use/ Other Projects6 to 7%

As you can imagine, getting the right moisture level can have a big impact on how easy it will be to complete your project. Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about the moisture in your wood. 

How Do You Measure The Moisture Of Wood? 

There are generally two ways of measuring how much moisture is in a piece of wood. First, you can put the wood into a kiln. As it dries out, the weight will decrease, giving you an estimate of how much moisture it contained. However, the most common method is using a wood moisture meter. This is an electronic device that will tell you the moisture content for that piece of wood. 

The type of measuring system that you are using will depend on what you are looking for. For example, if you want something that will give you the most accurate results, you should use the oven kiln method. However, if you want a fast measure, you’ll be better served by a wood moisture meter. In most cases, woodworkers will use a wood moisture meter. 

Using A Kiln

First, you’ll want to measure how heavy the wood is before it goes into the kiln. Then, you’ll need to put it inside the oven. This will dry it out. As you do this, the wood will get lighter, as the water evaporates away. 

This process continues until the wood has stopped changing weight. Then, you’ll need to compare the weight at the start, to the weight at the end. This will tell you how much moisture was in the wood. For example, imagine that a piece of wood weighed 10 kilograms. You complete the kiln process and it ends up weighing 9 kilograms. In this case, the wood moisture content was 10 percent. 

While this is the most accurate approach, it’s the least common. The biggest drawback is that you’ll only be able to find the moisture content level after the process has been completed. Most woodworkers want to know the moisture content level at the start, so they can decide if the drying out process is necessary. 

Another drawback is how long it takes. As we’ll discuss a little later, kiln drying can often take several days to complete. This can slow down progress on a project. 

Using A Wood Moisture Meter

The preferred method of measuring how green the lumber is by using a wood moisture meter. This is also a lot easier than using the kiln method. There are two types of meters, though they both work in a very similar way. 

First, you have pined meters. In this case, you’ll need to insert two small pins into the wood. The device will measure the resistance between those two points. This will tell you how much moisture in the wood. In the pinless model, you’ll need to hold it up to the wood and turn it on. It will then pass an electromagnetic wave through the wood. This will tell it how much water is in the lumber. 

A wood moisture meter is preferred because of how fast it is. In most cases, you’ll have the results in a few minutes. However, they will only measure the moisture between the two pins. Because of this, you risk missing a potentially dense moisture pocket somewhere else in the wood. The best way to combat this is by taking multiple measurements. 

What Is The Normal Moisture Content Of Wood?

In most cases, the wood will have a moisture content of between 8 to 25 percent. How high the moisture level is will depend on a few factors. First, you’ll need to consider how recently the wood was harvested. It’s also important to take into the humidity level of the air. 

The normal moisture content of the wood will often depend on the circumstances that you are keeping it in. For example, when the tree has recently been cut down, the moisture levels will be at their highest. At these times, they might be as high as 40 to 200 percent. However, as it dries it will lose moisture settling at between eight to 25 percent

The biggest factor that will impact on the moisture content is the humidity levels in the air. Wood will absorb moisture from the air. Because of this, you should avoid storing wood in humid environments. If the humidity levels are consistently above 80 percent, the wood might get damaged. It will often be more prone to rotting and mold. 

Another potential impact of storing wood in a humid is the risk of fungus growing on the surface. Often, the fungus won’t be able to do any serious structural to the wood. However, the spores can produce serious health problems, especially if you have a pre-existing breathing condition. Because of this, you might want to put a dehumidifier in the room where you are storing your wood.

What Happens If You Don’t Dry Wood?

It’s recommended that you avoid working with wood that is too wet. This can present a range of serious issues. First, you might accidentally gum up your machine. You will also be risking injury, as wet wood takes more effort to cut. This can increase the chances of kickbacks. 

It’s recommended that woodworkers avoid working with wood if they know that it is wet. This will hurt your machinery and can often produce a lower quality finished product. One of the biggest issues is that excess moisture can risk gumming up the machine. It might also increase the chances that the machine will rust. 

When this happens, you’ll need to spend more time maintaining the part. In other cases, you might need to replace it entirely. This can end up being very frustrating and expensive. Another potential issue is that working with wet wood can be more dangerous. Because of the extra moisture, the wood will be denser. As a result, it will take more effort to push it through the machine. The moisture increases the chances that it will end up catching on the machinery. This can also be annoying, as you need to stop the machine to free the wood. 

After you finish cutting the wood, you’ll need to assemble it. The excess moisture can increase the chances that the wood will shrink. When this happens, once tight joints will loosen. This can also lead to cracks or gaps in the wood. The longer the wood continues to dry out, the worse these problems will become. 

Can Wood Be Too Dry For Woodworking?

There might be times when the wood is too dry for woodworking. This can produce several negative consequences. First, your tools will dull faster. There’s also the risk that the wood will expand over time or that it will be more brittle to work with. 

While having too much moisture in the wood is an issue, too little moisture can also be a problem. In this case, you’ll notice that your tools will start to dull faster. You’ll need to spend more money replacing machinery parts. 

However, the biggest concern is how brittle the wood can become. This can make it much harder to work with, increasing the chances that it will splinter. Depending on how dry it is, the wood might crack when you insert a nail or screw. This can impact the integrity of the overall project. 

Also, when the wood is exposed to more humid air, it will absorb the moisture. This will cause it to expand. This can have a big impact on the finished project. For example, flooring might start to warp or crown. In other projects, the wood can even start bucking. 

How To Dry Wood For Woodworking?

There are a few methods of drying wood that you might want to explore, depending on how much time you have before you want to start your project. You might want to use a kiln, for faster drying. 

Before you start a new woodworking project, you’ll need to make sure that you have dried out the wood properly. How you do this can often depend on two factors. First, the amount of time you have before you want to start working with the materials. Secondly, the equipment that you have at your disposal. Let’s take a closer look at each of these options. 

How To Air Dry Wood? 

To successfully air-dry wood, you’ll need to lay out stickers so that they are at least 16 inches apart. Then, lay the boards on top of the stickers. Repeat this for as many layers of wood that you want to dry. 

Air drying, though slower than kiln drying, can be a good option for woodworkers who like to buy their wood in advance. It’s also a very simple method that doesn’t require any complex equipment. To do this, you’ll first need to lay out some stickers. These can be old timbers that have already dried out. This will ensure that the air can dry the logs from underneath. 

You’ll need to lay these at least 16 inches apart. If you are working with larger logs, you might want to lay them even further apart. You need to make sure that the wood isn’t touching.  Ideally, there should be at least one inch of space between the boards. Once you’ve laid the first layer, lay down the next level of stickers. Then lay the boards perpendicular. Repeat this for as many layers of wood as required. 

Next, you’ll need to protect the wood from splitting. This happens when one side of the log loses moisture faster than the other side. These issues often originate from the ends of the board, causing cracks that permeate several inches deep into the wood. The best way to prevent this is by end checking. This involves painting several coats of latex paint over the end of the wood. This will stop it from splitting apart. 

Once you’ve finished building the stack, you’ll need to make sure that it’s protected from the elements. This can mean putting the stack in a garage. In other cases, you might want to put the stack under a tarp. Wherever you put it, keep an eye on the humidity. Remember, if it’s over 80 percent, there’s a chance that you might be encouraging mold growth. 

How long you’ll need to leave the logs to sit will often depend on their size. As a general rule, you’ll need to allow one year of drying for each inch of thickness. After this time, you can use the wood moisture meter to check on its progress. Once the wood gets below seven percent moisture, you’ll be able to start using it for woodworking. 

Does Wood Need To Be Kiln Dried?

Though there are other ways of drying wood, it’s often best to kiln-dry them. This presents a few advantages. First, it will allow you to control the temperature and humidity. Also, this process is much faster than air drying. Because of this, most woodworkers prefer to use a kiln to dry their wood. 

There are multiple reasons why you might want to consider drying your wood in a kiln. First, it will allow you to dry the wood faster. While air-drying might be free, it can also take a long time. If you’re using thicker logs, it might be a few years before you’ll be able to start working with them. For many woodworkers, this is too long. When you use a kiln, you’ll be able to dry out the wood in a few hours. 

Another big benefit is the ability to control the temperature and humidity inside the kiln. As we discussed earlier, these factors can have a big impact on wood. In this controlled environment, there is a lower risk of the wood splitting apart as you dry it. This might also increase the speed at which logs can dry. 

The kiln drying process can also make the wood stronger. For example, if you’re drying hardwood, it might become harder. This makes it more resistant to termites. It will also allow you to construct sturdier projects, as the nails will be able to get a better grip. As a result, kiln-dried wood can be a better choice for structural beams in homes and other larger woodworking projects. 

Can You Kiln Dry Wood At Home?

It’s possible to kiln dry wood at home. First, you’ll need to build your own kiln. Then, you’ll need to add the wood to the kiln, drying it out. How long it will need to stay in the kiln will often depend on how effective the kiln is. Often, you’ll need to test using a wood moisture meter to know when it’s time to remove the wood. 

One of the first things that you’ll need to do is build the kiln. How you do this can often depend on the amount that you’re willing to spend and the type of materials that you have available. Thankfully, to build an effective kiln you don’t need to spend a fortune. 

When building your kiln, you’ll need to create a sealed room. This can be done using plastic sheeting. By doing this, you’ll be able to control the amount of humidity in the room. In some cases, you might even want to place a humidistat or a dehumidifier in the room. Next, you’ll want to create some airflow. This will ensure that mold and fungus can’t grow on the wood. It will also help you dry it out faster. 

You might also want to create a warmer environment. The heat will remove the moisture from the wood faster. There are a few ways that you will be able to create a hotter environment. For example, you might want to use a heater. In other cases, you might want to make a clear roof, allowing the sun to heat the wood for you. 

Once you’ve finished building your kiln, you will be able to bring your wood inside. How long it needs to stay in the kiln can vary. In some cases, it might only need to be in the kiln for a few hours. However, if you’re building it yourself, it will often take a little longer. This can mean a few weeks or even two to three months. 

The best way to decide when it’s safe to remove the logs is by using a wood moisture meter. When it’s lower than seven percent, you’ll be able to remove the wood and start working with it. It’s important to remember that, even after kiln drying, wood can still absorb moisture. So, if you store it in a humid workshop for several weeks it can still be too wet to use. Because of this, you might want to test the wood again before you start working with it. 

Can Warped Wood Be Fixed?

The drying process might result in some wood getting warped. There are a few ways to unwarp wood, depending on how thick it is. First, you can wrap a thin piece of wood in a towel, using an iron to straighten it. For a slightly thicker piece, you can lay it out in the sun. Alternatively, you can soak the wood and use clamps to straighten it again. 

If you aren’t careful, the wood you are using may warp during the drying process. This occurs because of the way that wood was dried. When it dries at an uneven rate, there is a risk that the wood will warp. One of the easiest ways to prevent warping is to make sure that there is plenty of space between each board. 

Once you start to notice the boards warping, you’ll need to make sure that you address the issue. There are three ways that you’ll be able to solve this problem. Which one you use will often depend on how thick the board is. First, you can iron the board. 

To do this, place some wet towels around it. This will make it easier to move back into its original position. Then, you want to take an iron and run it along the board. The heat should help to push the board straight. If you have a larger board, you might want to iron in sections. In most cases, you’ll be able to do this using a household iron. If you have thicker boards, you might need to get a specialized piece of equipment to iron it for you. 

Once you’re finished ironing, leave some time for the wood to dry. You might need to do this two or three times before you notice the warp has been fixed. If, after several attempts, there has been no change, you might want to move on to another method. 

The second way to fix warping is by laying the log out in the sun. Cover it in towels and make sure that it’s kept moist. The heat from the sun should get the board to start unwarping. If you’re doing this, make sure that you are placing the wood on top of a rigid surface. For example, a table or a driveway tends to deliver the best results. 

You’ll also need to make sure that you are regularly watering the towels. You don’t need them to be soaking wet, but they should be damp. At night, bring the board inside and lay it on the inward curve. This will keep the pressure on the warped section.

Often, this method can take a little longer to produce results. In most cases, it will take several days before you will start to see any progress. How thick your board is will depend on how long this method will take. If it’s more than a few inches thick, it might take too long to fix the warp using this technique. 

Lastly, you might want to try using a clamp to fix the warped section. First, you’ll want to wet the board. The best way to do this is by using damp towels. You’ll only need to wrap this around the curved section of the board. You only want to get the inwardly bent part of the board wet. 

When you have the cloth in place, roll plastic wrap around the entire log. This will hold the towels in place on the concave side of the board. As a result, the warped part will be able to stay damp for several days. 

Once you’ve got the plastic in place, lay the board on a flat surface. In most cases, it’s best to use a table or workbench. Then, apply clamps on either side of the warped area. Tighten the clamp. This will put pressure on the board. As you’re doing this, keep a heat lamp focused on the warp. 

After several days check the progress. This technique should work for most thicker boards. However, in some cases, you might need to get professional help to sort out a warped board. If, during the straightening process, you crack the board use some wood glue to repair it. This acts the way that tree sap would, strengthening the wood. 

Final Thoughts

It’s important to know how wet the wood is before you start working with it. This will ensure that you will be able to get the best possible results. If it’s too wet, the machinery can get gummed. If the wood is too dry, it can get brittle. This can increase the chances that it will splinter. The ideal wood moisture content will be around seven percent. There are many ways to dry out damp wood. This includes air drying and kiln drying.  

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